LL Cool J
LL Cool J (born James Todd Smith) first began rapping at the age of nine, with his grandfather, a jazz saxophonist, buying him his first DJ equipment at the age of 11. He earned his nickname by being a ladies man (“Ladies Love Cool James”), which became a trademark throughout his tenure in music. Raised in Queens, New York by his grandparents following his parents' divorce when he was four, LL became determined to get his music heard, even producing and mixing his own demos to mail out to record companies, including Def Jam, as the now-legendary imprint was being formed by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. In 1984, his single "I Need a Beat" became Def Jam's first release, going on to sell over 100,000 copies and prompting LL to drop out of high school to record his debut studio album, Radio. Following its release in 1985, LL became known for being an innovative force within hip-hop, with his album being received well commercially and going on to sell over a million copies. That same year he made his first cameo appearance in a feature film, with Kush Groove depicting a fictionalized version of the early days of Def Jam—with members of the groups Run DMC, Fat Boys, and New Edition all starring in the film. LL Cool J continued to add to his discography, with 1987's Bigger and Deffer and 1989's Walking with a Panther. The rapper's fourth album, Mama Said Knock You Out (1990) became his biggest seller to date, landing him his first Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. By the late ‘90s, LL also became established as a serious actor, appearing in films such as B.A.P.S. (1997), Halloween H20 (1998), and Any Given Sunday (1999). Today, LL's discography is thirteen full-length projects deep, with his acting resume even longer. In 2016, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and continues to build his legacy as one of the hardworking and influential household names in both the music and entertainment industries alike.